Monmouth Prosecutors conclude 1991 Murder investigation of a woman in Asbury Park
A homicide investigation that has been cold for nearly 28-years has been unthawed to display what happened and who was involved on Fourth Avenue in Asbury Park on March 27, 1991.
The murder of a woman has been solved after new DNA evidence testing provided a crucial break in the case, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni.
Gramiccioni said that on the morning of March 27, 1991 around 7:37 am, Asbury Park Police contacted the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office after a deceased white female was found under a ramp of a building under a ramp at the Asbury Park Boardwalk near Fourth Avenue.
The victim was believed to have been Christa Engel, though at that time there were no next of kin located to confirm Engel’s identity.
The medical examiner later concluded Engel had been severely beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled to death.
As detectives investigated the homicide they obtained items of evidence and DNA profiles from the victim’s body, stockings, slip, and dress were retained and tested.
Gramiccioni said that while a suspect was initially developed and charged, he was later exonerated when it was determined his DNA did not match the original subject’s DNA profile.
That's when the case went on ice.
Fast forward 10-years later to 2001, where the Monmouth County Prosecutors Office re-opened the cold case after discovering that DNA samples from the victim’s body and clothing could possibly be resubmitted and tested and it was submitted to the New Jersey State Police lab for analysis.
Monmouth County Prosecutors then learned that a potential match was obtained from the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) submittal.
CODIS is a national DNA database maintained by the FBI first established in the early 1990s, and utilized to identify possible suspects of a crime.
The database identified the DNA contributor and suspect in the murder of Christa Engel as Clarence W. Turnage of Asbury Park, who died in 2014.
While the case started to unthaw, there was still something cold about it.
In January of 2018, the Monmouth County Prosecutors Office announced the creation of a dedicated Cold Case Unit to focus exclusively on older, unsolved homicide cases.
The unit is staffed by an experienced assistant prosecutor and two detectives and the Engel homicide was one of several cases selected for immediate review.
Investigators spent months reviewing case files, various public records, and DNA analysis of the victim, ultimately confirming that Engel was actually born in West Germany with a given name of Christa Dierolf.
Detectives found out that Christa Dierolf changed her name to Christa Engel after marrying Seymour Engel in 1961.
The couple married in Passaic, New Jersey and later moved to Asbury Park.
"In 2018, in light of the more recent advances and innovations in DNA testing technology, our Office resubmitted DNA evidence from the 1991 Engel homicide to Bode Technology, a private forensic laboratory," Gramiccioni said. "To confirm the earlier CODIS hit, our Office was given consent to exhume Mr. Turnage’s corpse to obtain a DNA sample so Bode could perform a direct comparison."
In February of 2019, Bode’s forensic testing confirmed that Clarence W. Turnage was, in fact, the contributor of DNA profiles obtained from the victim’s dress, stockings and body.
Gramiccoini said that these three profiles were not tested in 1991 when the case was originally under investigation.
"At the time of the homicide, Mr. Turnage resided approximately 300 yards from the location where the Engel’s body was found and one block from the Carlton Hotel where Engel was living at the time," Gramiccioni said. "In August 2019, this Office requested that the original suspect’s DNA be compared to DNA from the victim’s slip and the dress. Requests were not made for the stocking or swabs to be tested since the FBI had excluded the original suspect as a contributor from these items in 1991."
He said lab testing by Bode confirmed the exclusion of the original suspect as the major contributor on the dress and slip.
"In January, our Office unsuccessfully attempted to reaffirm the identity of the victim as Christa Engel since investigators have been unable to identify any next of kin," Gramiccioni said. "It is hoped that with the release of this information and the conclusion of this investigation, a family member of Ms. Engel may come forward."
Anyone with any information pertaining to this case can contact Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Detective John Leibfried at 732-431-7160.
At this time the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office is closing the case as solved with no prosecution since the accused murderer, Clarence W. Turnage, is dead.
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